Steve Jobs: The Soul of an Industry

10/6/11Follow @drmime

When I heard the news of Steve Jobs’s death last night, even though I was hardly surprised, I felt like I had been kicked in the gut—as if the industry in which I’ve spent my career had lost its soul.

I’m rarely shy about criticizing the titans of our industry, but from the beginning Steve was different: a brilliant businessman whose primary motivation wasn’t money, a CEO who involved himself in every detail of product design, and a restless perfectionist who would change his plans in a heartbeat if he saw a better way to do things.

I saw this first-hand in the 1980s, when he visited my team at Carnegie Mellon. We introduced him to sending pictures, fonts, etc., through e-mail. He saw the value instantly, and tried to hire the whole team on the spot. When that failed, he quickly created the team that built NeXTMail, which eventually evolved into Mail.app on the Mac. Nobody ever “got it” faster than Steve—and when he got it, he made things happen in a hurry.

One of Steve’s least-mentioned talents was his mastery of e-mail. He was surely flooded with it, yet he answered more promptly than I can. I’ve spent my whole career working on e-mail, but if he had written a book on how to manage your e-mail, I would have bought it the day it was released.

I also admired Steve a great deal as a person. When he was the busy CEO of NeXT, my wife once put him on hold for over ten minutes while she hunted for me. He graciously uttered not a word of complaint. And when he famously called LSD “one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life,” he risked broad censure rather than betray the truth as he saw it—that LSD had helped open his mind to the insanely great possibilities of the coming digital age.

Steve left us too soon, when he still had much to teach us. But our world is incalculably better for the 56 years he gave us. May he rest in peace.

Nathaniel Borenstein is chief scientist at e-mail management firm Mimecast. Based in Michigan, he is the co-creator of the MIME e-mail standard and previously co-founded First Virtual Holdings and NetPOS. Follow @drmime

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